A Dash of ______

Volume 5, Issue 19
April 23, 2020

When I first read the topic for this issue of Paprika!, it filled me with anxiety. As I near the end of my architecture education, I realize that I still have no idea what this dash of something special could be. Is it the underlying formal geometry? Is it the aesthetic experience? Is it the spatial variable? Will I ever know? It seems that every time I think I know what it might be, I learn something new about architecture that changes my whole perspective on what that “secret ingredient” is.

Besides step 5, “add a dash of aaaaaaa”, the recipe offered in the prompt makes a lot of sense, and got me wondering, why isn’t architecture taught in that way? As a series of steps to follow, a methodology of sorts. Couldn’t design studios be set up like methods seminars? Where you are exposed to a series of approaches to solving problems, as well as their strengths and limitations, and try them out for yourself on your projects.

Instead, the education of architects is filled with mystery. It’s truethat there is no straight path towards gaining the knowledge you
will need. You might learn something in a computational design seminar or a composition course that solves the problem you were scratching your head about during last semester’s studio project. But then again you would have never been able to arrive at that knowledge if you hadn’t taken last semester’s studio in the first place! It’s a catch-22. You only start to gain a sense of the full picture years after your first design studio. And even then, you might have an idea of the pieces, but not always how to put them together. The recipe described so clearly in this Paprika! issue takes years of trial and error, of fumbling and bumbling to arrive at.

An added level of enigma further exacerbates the confusion created by this non-linear form of acquiring knowledge. Architects are encouraged to present clear arguments, but not to reveal their cards. The idea of using a recipe or methodology is contrary to everything we are told about making Great Architecture. Many architects would refuse to admit to using a recipe.

Perhaps the confusion arises because for every architect, the recipe is different. What changes from architect to architect is not so much
the dash of something special, but rather the order and quantities of all ingredients involved. As you gain more experience and knowledge, you add and subtract from that recipe. Some pieces of information will cause you to throw the recipe out altogether. Then there is the question of gaining knowledge but not knowing what to do with it—knowing you want your architecture to incorporate this new knowledge but not knowing how to do it.

What makes architecture special is its ability to grapple with and integrate a variety of ingredients that do not necessarily make sense together. Maybe we shouldn’t be looking for this “special ingredient,” but instead focus on mastering many different recipes.

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Volume 5, Issue 19
April 23, 2020